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Landscape Photography on the Road

Abandoned buildings, disused plants, ghost towns, old mines and gas stations, attract the attention of photography lovers who, in addition to exploring the potential of traditional landscapes, want to take unusual shots to surprise not only themselves but also their friends and maybe even followers on social networks.

If, besides being a photo junkie, you are also an explorer, or if the idea of visiting abandoned places appeals to you, first of all I suggest that you always proceed with the utmost attention, both for your safety and in order not to violate the laws in any way by accessing forbidden areas. Adopting adequate protections is the best way to proceed first and foremost.

Having said that, landscape photography of abandoned places has its long-standing charm, it has the potential of generating strong emotions. In North America, ghost towns are generally associated with the wild west frontier. Given the presence of old mines and oil towns, states like Texas and California are among the first visited by amateurs of this photographic genre. Not to mention states like Kansas and Oklahoma where there are many ruins, including old disused farms that date back to the Dust Bowl period.

Obviously then there are all these places full of charm along US1 and Route 66.

landscape photography

Nevada Desert

The city of Detroit has always been one of the destinations sought after by explorers for the variety of sites, especially former industrial plants, but also public transport lines and old abandoned neighborhoods.

But what is the best way to portray these places in photography?

You may happen to see a place full of charm that immediately catches your attention and then, reviewing the photographs, you realize that they do not give the same feeling. They do not depict the essence and the atmosphere of that abandoned landscape.

This happens when you don’t pay enough attention to important aspects and photographic technique such as exposition, but also, and above all in the case of abandoned sites, the composition and the choice of the ideal observation point.

You must also keep in mind that these landscapes of abandoned places and towns, like traditional landscapes, vary according to the time of day (i.e. light) and weather conditions.

To capture the essence of a landscape, you need to know how to tune into the environment that surrounds it, feel its peculiarities and understand what makes that place, that subject, so unique. Once you have identified this aspect, you will know exactly what to emphasize and then convey the same sensations through your photographs.

Always keep in mind that the camera does not pay attention to one detail rather than another, that is your job. Take your time, do not hurry because, at the moment of shooting, you must have already understood what are the compositional elements that you like most in a given scene.

landscape photography

Chain of rocks bridge – Missouri

Before even going to photograph the abandoned place you want to visit, I suggest you practice with light and photograph the landscape closest to your home at the most varied times. In this way you will have practiced enough to understand how light affects a landscape subject.

Photograph the same landscape at all times of day, in all weather conditions, trying to convey, in your shots, what you felt in front of that given view. If you notice that your photos do not convey your concept, try to understand what didn’t work, ask yourself what you could do differently next time. This is the best way to learn how to photograph landscapes.

Also, when it comes to abandoned places, old railroads or gas stations, avoid placing the subject in the center of the frame to make the image less obvious, and therefore more interesting. For this reason, it is best to observe the site from different perspectives in order to choose the best possible view point.

When composing the image, respect the rule of thirds and balance the spaces adequately in order to avoid too many empty areas in your shots.

Another tip that will be useful to you, when photographing a landscape, is not to divide the photo into 50:50 between the sky and the earth. There may be exceptions, but in most cases the result is more pleasant when the proportion is 1/3, based on what you want to highlight.

When it comes to landscape photography, especially abandoned sites where there are various elements that can capture your attention, you will find that every time you look, you will see new elements that you had not noticed during the shooting phase. They are often elements that somehow tell the story of that landscape.

landscape photography

Calico – California

The advice I give you is to always seek simplicity, in order to represent a certain place, a given subject, in the most direct way possible. Do not try to overdo it and include everything otherwise you will not be able to capture the essence and narrate your photographic story in a clear and comprehensible way.

A trip to a ghost town, along route 66 or some traits of the US 1, a visit to a disused gas station, an old railway or an abandoned mine is a journey through time.

Each of these places has a story to tell. These are often stories full of hopes and dreams but also of families looking for a better future. Stories of economic change and unpredictable weather conditions.

All of these places has its own atmosphere and charm something that you can capture with your camera.


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Landscape photography: 3 common mistakes to avoid

Instead of saying: “do this in this way”, “do that, but be careful because you should do it like this” etc. sometimes it can be helpful to say exactly what not to do.

So here we can learn what mistakes to avoid and common things you don’t want to do when it comes to landscape photography.

There are common mistakes, and not only beginner’s mistakes, that can screw up your photos. However, if you know in advance what to do, you can easily avoid them and achieve the desired results.

One thing to keep in mind, when shooting, is that you want to convey the feeling you experienced in front of a certain view. Observing a picture is very different than being in the location itself. So, make sure you focus on the feeling, on your personal view of the scene. What did it mean to you? How did it make you feel? Your shots should answer those questions.

Only by following this concept will your images look authentic and unique.

landscape photography

Lake Tahoe

  • #1. Too much of everything

This is the first error because when there’s too much of everything, you can’t see anything. Instead of trying to fit everything in the frame, ask yourself which element gives the most character to your landscape and make sure you include that and give it importance by keeping it clean and tidy, nothing extra. Think zen!

Often what is sought in a landscape shot is to obtain an image that conveys a sense of majesty and vastness. If this is the goal, it is almost always a question of the relationship between what you have in the foreground and what is in the background. For example, if you photograph a mountain, however fascinating and immense it may be, it will look flat if it is not related to elements in the foreground. It could be rocks, plants, flowers or even just a green lawn. Inserting these elements in the composition allows you to create a connection between them. And this translates into a composition with greater depth.

  • #2. Make sure the horizon is level

This is a simple thing which means that it is really essential. Nothing is more disturbing to the eye than a sloping horizon. It is also a sign of neglect that can be easily avoided with minimal effort. There are no excuses. Do not evaluate with your eye, use a tripod and a level.

Speaking of horizon, it is important to notice that the lines that make up a frame can help convey different moods. This is especially true in landscape photography. For example, the prevalence of horizontal lines gives a feeling of relaxation and serenity. Conversely, the prevalence of vertical and diagonal lines conveys dynamism. An image in which ascending and descending lines dominate over the horizontal ones will have a vigorous mood.

landscape photography

Bryce Canyon

  • #3. Don’t spoil the exposure

Exposure is a key factor in photography and even more so in landscape photography where the various levels of the view can present different conditions. The challenge is that if you expose for the sky, the foreground can be too dark and if you expose for the foreground, the sky can be burnt and the detail lost. One of the solutions to overcome this problem is the use of filters. Your goal as a landscape photographer is to make sure that all the elements in the shot are exposed correctly, so that maximum detail is revealed.

Each landscape – according mostly to available light conditions – requires specific camera settings in order to be captured in a way that truly reveals its beauty.

As for the exposure, to work on the balancing of areas of shadow or excessive light, you need to adjust the shutter of your camera. Slow it down when there is low light or speed it up when there is too much light.

If you shoot in aperture priority mode, the digital camera has a special the exposure compensation feature which allows you to impact directly on the exposure, to increase and decrease the value, until the desired combination is reached.

I also advise you to set the white balance manually so as to find the ideal gradation for the landscape you have chosen based on the available light conditions.

landscape photography

River Hills California

And in conclusion…

Having said that, it is true that knowing how to proceed allows you to avoid errors that can compromise the results of your photographic outputs, but this does not mean that you have to restrain yourself from the fear of making mistakes. In fact, it is thanks to practice, experience and therefore also thanks to mistakes that you learn. The more you practice, the more your skills will improve and it will be easier for you to create successful images. Not only technically correct images but also capable of conveying strong feelings.


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